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Category: Theater

POEM: I Skipped “Maya The Psychic”

I Skipped “Maya The Psychic”

I raced home to tell you about
the production of Hamlet I saw tonight.
You would have loved it, or at least
you’d have loved that I loved it,
back when that was how things were.
I listened to our playlist on the way home:
“Supersoaker” and “National Express”
and “Stronger” and “The Ballad of El Goodo.”
I skipped “Maya The Psychic.”
Not because it’s not a good song
but because it sounds more like you
than I can usually handle.
Same with Hozier, who has new music out
and we play it on my station
which means every day
I sit there and listen and his voice
is really your voice.
Anyway Hamlet was fabulous
but when I got home it was empty.

/ / /

1 October 2023
Charlottesville VA

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Rory Kinnear is the best Shakespearean actor of this generation.

Last night I went to The State Theatre in State College to see a broadcast of the National Theatre’s current production of Othello. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, it features Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago. Here’s a bold statement: Rory Kinnear is the greatest Shakeasperean actor of my generation. (He’s 35.) Kinnear’s Hamlet from 2010 was the best I’ve ever seen, and last night’s Othello was similarly a masterpiece.

Hytner is a major visionary as director (he did both Hamlet and Othello). He finds the core of each play and then transports that core into a new era and a new setting. No pandering, just plain brilliance.

But it’s Kinnear who pulls me forward on my seat and makes me hold my breath. He lives the dialogue. He embodies the characters. Watching Rory Kinnear makes me feel as if I’m seeing these works for the first time. If you live in a large town or in a city, there’s a decent chance one of your local cinemas is showing National Theatre broadcasts. GO.

Also, this is the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre, so they’re showing some encore performances, including Kinnear’s Hamlet and Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch. Also coming up, Macbeth with Kevin Branagh in the title role and Alex Kingston (River Song) as Lady Macbeth; and Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston (Loki). GO. GO. GO.

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Hamlet for our surveillance age

I just got home from watching the National Theatre (London) production of Hamlet with Rory Kinnear. I saw it at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany, NY, as part of a global broadcast. On the way home, I was thinking about how appropriate a version of Hamlet it was for the times in which we’re living.

Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in about 1600, when England was an authoritarian state with a highly developed internal security and monitoring system. Surveillance runs throughout the play — from Polonious and Claudius hiding while Hamlet talks with Ophelia, to Polonious listening in the Gertrude’s conversation with Hamlet … and the list goes on. The state of Denmark is preparing for war, or at least the latest phase in a war that seems to be all but ceaseless. Sound familiar?

This production of Hamlet brought that ominous and authoritarian tone even more sharply to the fore. It was set in a modern-day totalitarian state. There were guards everywhere with earpieces, speaking into their wrist microphones. There were cameras and spotlights and bugs and secret passages for eavesdropping. There are rebel forces using throwback AK-47-style weapons arrayed against the might of the state. Everyone is watching everyone else and paranoia is the reigning mental state. There were implements of torture and at least one act of disappearance a la El Salvador.

I’ve seen quite a few productions of Hamlet over the years, including several of the “classics.” My gut reaction to this version tonight is that it was the best I’ve seen and also the best at making the play relevant to a 21st century audience. I highly recommend seeing it if it’s shown in a theater near you.

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